The 'Fantastick' Nick Spangler And His 'AMAZING' Win
When a writer has done the number of celebrity interviews that I have, he realizes that there are a handful of celebrities he would never want to meet again. Most, however, are genuinely nice people and enjoyable to work with. There are others who become friends-true and genuine friends. Such is the relationship that has developed between me and Nick Spangler who is currently starring as Matt in the lovely revival of The Fantasticks which is enjoying a healthy run Off Broadway.
I first encountered Nick at the Gateway Playhouse in Bellport, New York. Their 2006 production of The Fantasticks by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt was done in a circus-like setting and Nick was a true stand-out as the young hero. A little more than a year later, on a cold March Sunday afternoon, I wandered into the Snapple Theater Center on Broadway and 50st Street to see the more traditional version of The Fantasticks that was playing there and found a slip of paper in my Playbill advising that "At this performance the role of Matt will be played by Nick Spangler". In the intimate setting of this theater, Nick's talents were even more evident. His clean-cut good looks and his clarion singing voice indicated that he was a true leading man in the Rodgers and Hammersetin tradition. A short time later I interviewed him for Broadway World and in the course of that conversation we became friends.
In March, 2008, Nick and I met for lunch and a matinee of Gypsy at the St. James Theater. As usual, the conversation and laughter flowed freely and he brought me up-to-date on his relationship with his girlfriend Monica and other events in his life. As we parted ways, he told me he wouldn't be around for a few weeks because he and his sister were going to be "backpacking through Europe." I was happy for him and asked that he remember to send me a postcard. His response was a simple, "Can do!" We shook hands and parted. The postcard never arrived.
Several months later I received an invitation from Nick inviting me to a special luncheon at the Friar's Club. Obviously he was back in town! The Theater Hall of Fame was inducting legendary actress Frances Sternhagen into their ranks and at the event Nick was to be awarded a Fellowship from the Jerry and Elaine Orbach Foundation.
The luncheon was a splendid event and I mingled freely among such luminaries as Dana Ivey, Marian Seldes, Len Cariou and Karen Ziemba. At the luncheon, I was seated between Nick's father and Burke Moses, who had played El Gallo in The Fantasticks for a lengthy time. I also got to meet Nick's beautiful girlfriend, Monica. In the course of the conversation, Nick mentioned that he had just finished "The Amazing Race" for CBS. As someone who doesn't watch much commercial television, the comment didn't mean much to me. Perhaps it was just another sitcom.
In September of that year, I received an e-mail inviting me to interview both Nick and his sister Starr for Broadway World. Doing my research for the interview I learned what "The Amazing Race" encompassed and the grand prize was one million dollars. Whew! This was much more than a sitcom!
At that particular interview I not only got to meet Starr Spangler, but I learned how arduous the tasks were on "The Amazing Race" I also discovered that the Spangler siblings had signed documents about taking a vow of silence about the race and its outcome. One slip and Nick and Starr would forfeit any of the winnings they'd accrued in the course of the race. As a result, I found that my communications with Nick were unintentionally curtailed. I didn't want to put him or myself in any awkward situation.
This made me wonder how the cast of The Fantasticks were relating to Nick while he was performing with them on stage and his previously taped exploits were being telecast to the nation. Therefore, after a recent matinee of The Fantasticks, I met with several members of the cast and staff of the show to learn how they dealt with watching Nick and Starrs accomplishments on television and what their reactions were like when the Spanglers took home the grand prize of one million dollars. One of the first things I learned was that the cast and crew at the Jerry Orbach Theater (which is part of the Snapple Theater Center) had a small television in what is commonly called "the green room" so they could watch the show when they weren't on stage.
"It was very odd," chuckles John Thomas Waite, who charmingly plays the Old Actor in The Fantasticks. "Nick was just as cool as could be. He was right up front about saying he couldn't talk about it. He told us that he and Starr had signed 27 pages of non-disclosure documents. The cast and I were like little kids on Sunday nights, running to see where they were. It was only after the episode aired that Nick would explain how things seem to go by so swiftly on television but he and his sister were actually in that cab for four hours with a driver who didn't speak English."
On December 7th finale, when the Spangler siblings were the first to cross the finish line, there was quite a bit of celebration backstage. "We were like children," reminisces Waite. "We were all happy and it wasn't because Nick was going to be a millionaire. It was nice to root for him and we were going nuts. However, we were under strict orders that there was to be no screaming or yelling in the green room in the middle of the show!"
Margaret Ann Florence (who actually may be related to TV chef Tyler Florence) plays Luisa in The Fantasticks and imbues the role with much more humor than is usually found in it. Her vivacity came across clearly as she sat in her dressing room talking to me. Has there been any difference in playing tender love scenes with Nick now that he's such a big winner? "I think he's the same person that he was before I knew that he won all that money! But I'm happily married and I know that Nick is happily involved with his girlfriend so there's no yearning now in the love scenes that wasn't there before just because he has money." She laughs and adds, "I'm proud of him and very happy for him." Margaret Ann admits that she tried to coax some sort of vibes about the race from her co-star, but Nick didn't yield any information. "I must say, if I had to play a game of poker with him I'd really worry because he was very, very good about not letting on at all!"
The role of Mortimer (The Man Who Dies) is played to great effect in this production by Michael Nostrand. Michael is a veteran of the original production of The Fantasticks, having appeared in several different roles while the show was in its original run at the Sullivan Street Theater. Michael relates how nervous he became when the last episode of "The Amazing Race" aired.
He was sitting in the green room with the box office manager and the few cast members who weren't on stage when Nick won. They walked up and down the backstage corridor quietly muttering "He won! He won!" and then set about informing the actors who were performing. "When we went out to do ‘Round and Round' we were behind the curtain and gave thumbs up signs to let the other members of the cast know the good news.
John Capo's office is on the top floor of the Snapple Theater Center. John handles the public relations for the show and was in the enviable position of having one of the stars of his show generate real and positive publicity. " For the week leading up to the finale, I had two separate scenarios for Nick. There was one scenario if he won and another if he didn't. It was frustrating but a lot of fun to work on. "Where was he when the world learned that Nick and Starr had won the race? "I was at home. I thought the final episode was edited so brilliantly that it sucked me in from start to finish. I did not know who was going to round that corner. I thought Ken and Tina were going to do it at one point, but the whole season was leading up to the big Nick and Starr win.
At the minute they won I was positioned at my computer because I had my press release ready to go out the second that happened. We had a guy at the New York Times waiting and a whole lot of others. I'd written the press release at about four o'clock on Friday before I left work. I actually held up the press release and brought it to each producer and had them kiss it for good luck. Bringing it home with me, I stowed away in my e-mail. As soon as he won I sent it out and it went from there."
Of course the main reason for this particular visit to The Fantasticks was to see Nick Spangler himself. We'd only communicated by e-mail since "The Amazing Race" began airing and he greeted me with a huge "buddy hug", thanking me for the voice mail I'd left when the final episode aired. I admit I'd gotten chocked up when he and his sister crossed the Finish Line and it was apparent in the message I left. Why not? Shouldn't I take pride in my friend's achievement?
Nick and I sat down to talk right on the stage of the theater. He was so calm and relaxed that I found it hard to believe he'd been making the rounds of talk shows and had come back from Los Angles the day before, where he taped a visit with Bonnie Hunt on her TV show. Michael Nostrand had referred to Nick as a "young Cary Grant" and talking to Nick, I realized how apt that comment was. No matter what is confronting Nick Spangler, he gives the impression of being suave and in control. That's a good quality to have for a young man who would like to make his career in the theater.
Nick commented that when it came to CBS show, "Ninety percent of the race takes place at an airport or on an airplane. All the fun stuff that they show in every episode: the tasks, the roadblocks and those things, they account about ten percent of the time you spend. You can land in a country and two and a half hours later be done. What you have to do is very tiring so it feels a lot longer. When you finally get twelve hours to stay at a hotel you're getting as much sleep as you can!"
When the teams were given "mandatory rest stops, the accommodations could be just as good as they were bad. Every once in a while we'd be driven to a 5 star hotel and every now and then, specifically in Bolivia, Cambodia and Kazakhsthan, we had accommodations that were not so sweet. I think it was Cambodia where we had a teeny little room with no air conditioning and it was a million degrees outside. It was rough, but they called that the ‘cultural experience' of the race!"
As so much of "The Amazing Race" plays out in taxicabs, has Nick had even the thought of hailing a cab now that he's back in New York City? "That's funny," he smiles, "the day I got back to the city, I was walking from my apartment to the subway and I looked up as I was crossing Broadway. There was a cab that was available right there and without even thinking I broke into a run to hail it. At the end of the race, especially in Russia, we always needed cabs. So I stopped about ten steps later and told myself that I didn't need a cab anymore because I travel on the subway! It as very strange."
There's a scene in The Fantasticks where Nick picks up a sword and duels with El Gallo. It's here that Nick displays his agility and theatrical training. Did this training help him in the race? "In hindsight, I feel that my acting training and career helped me because when you're on the race, more than knowing foreign languages or knowing foreign cities, what aids you most is being able to think on your feet and making split second decisions. You never know what's coming and the amount of preparation you can do is teeny because you can study for days and suddenly they'll throw something at you and I'd think, ‘Well how did I know we were gonna do that?' So I really do think that much of the race was like an improve skit. You never knew what was coming at you and you had to be receptive and adapt and respond in a timely manner. I think that's where a lot of the other teams tripped up. They were focused on the goal of being fast and being first, but because they were so focused, they weren't open to their environment. I think if you watch the whole season you see other teams make lots of mistakes reading their clues or looking for something Actually Starr and I made very few mistakes in the course of the race. I think my openness and observation skills really helped."
It was mentioned that at one point in the race Nick was wearing a shirt with his sister's name emblazoned on it and she was wearing his. What was the story behind that? "Starr and I spent most of the race in first place. That's where you can relax a little bit and that helps you to be more observant and note more of what's going on. We'd had this terrible cab driver for four hours and we finally got where we needed to go and realized we weresuddenly in last place. Needless to say, this was a very important leg. We arrived at this army camp and read the clue which stated that ‘you must put on army fatigues'. It didn't say that they were marked and had our names on them, so we ran into the tent and there were only two left because all the other teams had put theirs on already. We were so frantic that we just grabbed the first ones we saw and then we had to put the boots on and stuff. By the time we were actually marching I looked at Starr and saw on her breast ‘Nick' and I realized we were wearing each other's uniforms. At first I thought we were going to get a penalty for it but it really wasn't a big deal. I looked a little silly on television," he comments with a laugh.
None of the tasks the teams were required to perform looked particularly easy, but Nick says that one stood out in its difficulty from the others. Probably the most difficult task we did was the ONE task on the entire race that we had to give up on - The Kiwi Squashing in New Zealand (episode 4) It was incredibly difficult. I still have scars on my feet from that one!"
During the race, there were conversations on various message boards about what was perceived as "unethical actions" that the Spanglers took in the course of the race. Nick carefully explains what happened in several instances:
"I'm not so sure I DID play very unethically... A lot of these situations were depicted in misleading ways. For example, the accusation that Starr had pushed a female player's sports bra off a balcony were false. The incident never happened. As for the ‘stealing' of a taxi from Ken and Tina, well, it was the last hour of the race and the cab had a GPS. You'd have to be crazy not to grab a cab like that under the circumstances."
As millions of television viewers know, during the course of the race, Starr Spangler became romantically involved with one of her competitors, Dallas Imbimbo, whose teammate was his mother Toni. "I've seen Starr go through many relationships down through the years, both in high school and college, It was funny because Starr's not the kind of person who would let that interfere with her race. I never heard anything about it when we were racing. If we were in a country and racing in taxis, she wanted to be in front of Dallas and Toni at every minute. It was only on the airplanes or in the airports that she would and kind of disappear and talk with him. I would hang out with Toni a little bit. To be honest, in the scope of the race, it was nice for her to have some kind of distraction so that she wasn't so focused on the race because as I said, you CAN be too focused and that can be a detriment."
Making the situation more interesting, Dallas and Toni live only a few minutes from where Nick and Starr grew up in Califormia. "Toni is lots of fun and is an awesome mother. As soon as Starr and I met her we thought she'd get along with our Mom. In fact, as soon as the race was over Toni met our Mom and now they go for walks and have lunch together all the time. I like to think Toni is very fond of me and Starr. I think she approves of the relationship."
Along the way, Nick and Starr won several prizes for coming in first place on various episodes. As of our conversation, neither Nick nor Starr have been able to enjoy them. "You're not allowed to take any prizes or prize money until the finale airs," explained Nick. "Since it only aired three days ago, I haven't had the time to go on any of our trips or drive around in one of our cars. Just before today's matinee I got a voicemail and it said,"Hi, this is so-and-so from ‘The Amazing Race'. We're sending out prize checks and I want to make sure I have the right address for you.' It finally dawned on me that they were going to send me a check for five hundred thousand dollars! I still don't know how all the prizes work and how I'm getting them." All together, Nick and Starr won seven legs out of the eleven and won the million dollars, four trips for two, two electric cars and two jet skis.
All of this success hasn't kept Nick Spangler from being one of the most grounded young man in New York's theater community. Contract negotiations for The Fantasticks are coming up and he plans to stay with the show. "It's a great show and it's lots of fun. There's a reason why it's the longest running show in the world. I love doing it and have every intention of staying here." He's handsome, he's talented, he's articulate and he's rich. It seems that Nick Spangler has it all. Just don't expect him to send you any postcards from Europe!
Nick's website is located at www.nickspangler.com
Nick and Starr's website is located at: www.nickandstarr.com